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Officials: Suffolk County Water Authority deal would include $14.6M upgrades

The Suffolk County Water Authority has proposed taking over daily operations of the Hampton Bays Water District — where contaminants have been detected in public wells — in a deal town and water authority officials say will upgrade infrastructure with little financial impact on residents.

SCWA officials, speaking on Thursday before the Southampton Town Board which acts as water authority commissioners, said the agreement includes $14.6 million for district capital improvements, with $6.1 million spent in the first three years including $2.5 million for an iron and manganese removal system.

The water district installed a $1 million carbon filtration system in June to remove perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA, and perfluorooctane sulfonate, or PFOS, — chemicals the Environmental Protection Agency has linked to cancer and other health problems — which were detected in three of the district’s 11 wells in 2016 and 2017. 

Residents complained of rust-colored water due to iron and manganese after the water authority took the three wells offline, a switch that changed the system’s hydrologic dynamics and loosened sediment along its pipes.

The capital improvement costs would be spread among the SCWA’s 1.2 million customers rather than just the 6,400 customers in Hampton Bays, said SCWA CEO Jeff Szabo.

“If we had to absorb $6 million in capital over the next three years and just charge taxpayers in Hampton Bays, that would be a big hit,” Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman said during the meeting.

The town board would continue to set customer rates and the water authority’s 13 employees will be offered a job with SCWA under the agreement.

The SCWA would send out bills and collect payments while the water district would pay any difference between its rates and the water authority’s rates, said Tim Hopkins, SCWA general counsel. As part of the agreement the water authority would make a one-time payment to Hampton Bays, an amount still being negotiated, which would be used to stabilize those rates during the transition. 

Hamptons Bays Water District residents are currently charged a fee on their tax bill as well as a quarterly water bill. A SCWA customer pays $46.17 per quarter for 11,220 gallons of water while a Hampton Bays customer would pay $35.40 for the same amount of water, a figure that doesn’t include the town tax rate.

Water district assistant superintendent James Warner said Hampton Bays residents could eventually pay more for water and noted the water authority has had no issues since taking the three wells back online in August.

“We haven’t done anything wrong,” Warner said.

Two public hearings on the issue are expected for November and December, Schneiderman said during the work session.

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